Post & Effects

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Siemens zooms into a slapstick yet dystopic future in this 90-second European cinema spot, launching its fashion-forward Xelibri mobile phone brand. In the eyes of London's Mother and Swedish directing cooperative Traktor, Tomorrowland isn't full of perfectly engineered beings. Rather, it's an eerie realm where dancing is forbidden and where everyone bears the same goofy mug, from portly policemen to girls with pigtails. "The sheer quantity of the effects was mind-boggling, but having such a twisted story at the core makes it worthwhile," explains Traktor. And thought the spot was shot in L.A., no plastic surgery was involved in creating this bizarre world populated by lookalikes. Traktor had brought on board their longtime collaborators at the Moving Picture Company, the London effects shop that teamed with them on head-replacement jobs like Madonna's "Die Another Day" and Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At" videos. Here, however, one head, that of the lead actor, known simply as Joel, who makes the mistake of dancing in the street after whipping out a boombox disguised as a dog, appears on every body - nearly 300 people in all, says MPC senior Inferno artist Alex Lovejoy. Traktor shot the bodies over eight days; MPC conformed and stabilized the footage in order to smooth the progress of a four-day greenscreen shoot involving the solo Joel.

"Stabilizing at the offline stage got rid of any camera movement," Lovejoy explains. "If the camera was moving left to right or zooming in and out, we'd take that out and just be left with the actors' heads full frame. Then, if their heads would be turning left and right, Joel would just have to replicate that. When it came to compositing in Inferno, we just tracked the new head on according to the camera movement." Despite all that, the greenscreen shoot still involved four "very long" days during which Joel replicated the movements for several bodies' heads. Traktor notes, "We had to shoot 185 different setups in which he had to be lit and wear the exact makeup and wig to fit with the character in question, not to mention the multitude of gloriously generic setups. If we took shortcuts with any of the setups, it would have given us huge headaches in postproduction to the point of it being unsolvable."

Besides the numerous Inferno head switches, post also included a bit of CG and matte painting as well as compositing for the Transformer-like boombox dog (which Traktor affectionately refers to as Boombuster Flexpuppy). During the exhausting nine weeks of post, Lovejoy recalls, "the hardest thing was cleaning up excess head and hair left over from the heads we were replacing. We had to rebuild people's shoulders and jackets, which was quite tricky."

It could have been a lot messier without precautionary measures taken during the L.A. shoot, in which the bodies' former heads were squashed down in hairnets and minimizing panythose. Adds Traktor, "Other than that, we simply had to direct them as if they were the final character, in order to get the motion of the ocean that is their bodies correct." As successfully as the digital surgery went, however, it's what's inside that counts, Traktor insists. "The challenge is to look past the effects at a cheeky story, well told."

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